GUWAHATI, Aug 20 - The Indian Navy is involved in one of its biggest ever rescue and relief operations in flood-ravaged Kerala and the helicopters of the Indian Navy are carrying out sorties from sunrise to sunset to rescue marooned people and to airdrop relief materials. The officers and men of the Navy are working round the clock as maintenance of the helicopters has to be carried out at night, while proper planning has to be made every day before sending out the aircraft at sunrise.
Talking to The Assam Tribune, Commander Abhijit Barkataky of the INS Garuba, the Naval Air Station at Kochi, who is coordinating the flight operations from the base, admitted that it is one of the biggest such operations carried out by the Navy as Kerala is totally ravaged by the unprecedented floods. He said that till yesterday evening, the Navy personnel rescued more than 50,000 marooned people, of which around 15,000 had to be airlifted. Those who were airlifted include one pregnant lady, who gave birth to a healthy baby at the Navy hospital, while several other pregnant women were airlifted and now they are undergoing treatment in Navy medical facilities.
Giving details of the operations, Commander Barkataky said the Navy swung into action from the early morning of August 16 and the rescue and relief operations are continuing round the clock. Apart from aircraft, the Navy personnel are also using inflated rubber boats to rescue marooned people. The Naval air base has also handled more than 20 tonnes of cargo till yesterday evening, which include relief materials, life jackets and other paraphernalia flown into Kerala from different parts of the country.
More than 30 helicopters of the Navy and a few Dornier aircraft have been pressed into service, while a few choppers of the Indian Air Force and Coast Guards have also been sent for rescue and relief operations. Around 70 to 80 pilots are working every day and the number of sorties made by the choppers crossed the 200 mark last evening.
The day at the Naval air base starts at around 5:30 am when the officers, pilots and others gather at the station to plan out strategies for the day and works are assigned to all accordingly. The choppers start around 20 minutes before sunrise with relief materials and rescue teams, and the operations continue up to 20 minutes after sunset. Normally, it is not advisable to fly choppers after sunset, but on a few occasions, a few choppers had to be in the air even after sunset because of the gravity of the situation. The Dornier planes are mostly used to maintain contact with the choppers as it is difficult for the chopper pilots to maintain contacts with the base when they have to fly low.
Replying to a question whether bad weather affected flight operations, Commander Barkataky admitted that it is difficult to fly choppers during heavy rains. However, at the same time, he said that all-out efforts were made to fly the choppers even during rains. He revealed that in such situations, the pilots, who have the experience of flying in inclement weather, are used and on such occasions, proper planning is required.
On his personal experience in coordinating the flight operations from the Naval air base during the hour of crisis, Commander Barkataky said that though the work was a tough one, it was very satisfying experience. �One 70-year-old man, who was sick, was airlifted and immediately after getting down from the chopper in the Naval base, he hugged and thanked me, which brought tears to my eyes. Similarly, successful rescue of a pregnant woman, who gave birth to a healthy baby in the Navy hospital, was very satisfying moment,� he added.